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Categories: Movie Reviews

Matthew Wilson reviews Gareth Evans’ new horror film, Apostle, expecting to see some old tricks but, instead, finds some new, and unexpected, ones.

Having been kicked in the head by both of his Raid films, I was looking forward to Gareth Evans’ full-length Horror film Apostle. Even more so having seen how he handled the genre in VHS2 with Safe Haven. Surprisingly, Apostle turned out to be a much slower burn than I was expecting but it proves that Evans has more to him than just hard-boiled action.

Set in 1905, the film opens with ex-missionary Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) reluctantly returning home to find that his sister Jennifer (Elen Rhys) has been kidnapped by a mysterious cult living on an island and demanding ransom from Thomas’ father. Instead, Thomas goes in his stead, using his anonymity to hide among the new arrivals and learn as much as he can about where Jennifer is being kept.

Thomas lands on the island and is greeted by the cult’s leader Malcolm Howe (Michael Sheen), a previous convict who crash-landed on the island with two fellow prisoners, Quinn (Mark Lewis-Jones) and Frank (Paul Higgins), and discovered the key to the island’s high crop yield was with a blood sacrifice. Naturally Thomas is disturbed but after blackmailing Frank’s son Jeremy (Bill Milner) – who is sleeping with Quinn’s daughter Ffion (Kristen Froseth) – he learns that the blood sacrifices aren’t working and now the island needs Jennifer’s ransom money to survive.

I don’t want to reveal too much because there’s a definite left-turn that pushes the film away from the Wicker Man style Island Cult story and into something more disturbing. The closer Thomas gets to Malcolm the more he finds out about the Island’s true history, it’s a strange turn but it works to add an extra layer and take the film into an exciting new direction.

Acting was strong throughout, though part of me did think some of the supporting cast got sidelined. Jennifer being the worst example but, in the context of the story, it made sense that we saw little from her. The doomed lover of Jeremy and Ffion were a nice addition, Ffion didn’t have much, though she had some good scenes fighting against Quinn. Jeremy had a little but he’s still a little too vanilla to really stand out. And yet, ironically, that’s what makes them both good characters. This is a dark tale and this side-story of blossoming young love has no way to survive.

Malcolm, Quinn and Frank were all good as three very different men. Much like his son, Frank, was a little too vanilla but his place as the trio’s conscience did a great job at showing how these three men had the best of intentions and just how far they’ve fallen. Quinn was a real surprise, at first he’s shown to be the most volatile of the three but as the film goes on he turns out to be so much worse. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything but Quinn plays a bigger part than you initially think and he’s a hell of a villain.

By contrast, Malcolm starts the film as the central villain. His rule of over the island born from his natural charisma and, more than once, we see his sinister side. But there’s something about Malcolm when he claims to want the best for the island, you almost believe him. Oddly Malcolm’s intentions do seem to be pure even if his methods are disturbing, Sheen had this way about him where he could bring fear and sympathy without changing who Malcolm was as a character.

His daughter Andrea (Lucy Boynton) shared Malcolm’s tenacity, often fighting against the established order and not fully understanding the island’s rules. As the lone doctor on the island her duty was to the people and part of her knew that Malcolm and the others were not in their best interest. She presented herself a good juxtaposition to Thomas, involved enough to know the inner workings of the island but too close to her father to be able to change anything without hurting him.

Rounding out the cast was Dan Stevens, embracing his natural darkness. And Thomas was as dark a character as this story. Originally a Christian missionary, Thomas lost his faith after facing massacre and torture during the Boxer Rebellion. He feels like a man who’s lost everything and is fighting to tell himself he doesn’t care. There are hints to a drug use that add to his manic state and he’s often standoffish, and uncaring, to the people around him. The sole counterpoint to this is Jennifer. The one point of love that Thomas has left which explains why he’s pushing so hard to find her.

Fans of The Raid or Safe Haven should know going in that this does not have Evans’ usually flair for insanity and part of me is slightly disappointed. Given Evans’ pedigree, I did expect this to go absolutely bat-crap crazy by the end. Instead, I got a slow-burn horror with dashes of madness peppered throughout. Not the same, but it works. For most of the first act, you get this Wicker Man feel. The whole island has this creepy vibe, the way everyone has fallen under its spell and ready to follow Malcolm’s every word makes you feel uneasy even if you don’t fully understand why.

Then you do find out why, and I don’t want to take away from the surprise of it but things get weird. Like Pagan ritual weird. And Evans uses that Pagan madness to exacerbate a very human evil. It’s almost scarier that the recognisably insane portions of the film don’t really factor into the story aside from being an excuse for Malcolm and Quinn to justify their actions, there’s something really disturbing about that and Evans captures it brilliantly.

Apostle might not have been explosion of lunacy like I’d hoped but that doesn’t take away from this being one of the year’s better horror movies. It’s slow-burn approach allows it to take a kidnapping plot, and turn it on it’s head, without losing momentum. The acting mirrored the film’s dark heart and Evans exchanged full-blown insanity for a creeping madness that does the job just as well.

Apostle is available to view now on Netflix.

Matthew Wilson

Operating out of Livingston, Scotland, Matthew Wilson has been self-publishing reviews since 2012 - amassing over 1000 and climbing on his personal account at MovieFanCentral- and has produced a number of short films for his Graded Unit at Edinburgh College. Matthew hopes to start writing and directing his own productions one day, having written several unpublished scripts for film and television.

Posted on Nov 1, 2018

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